African Contemporary Art Fair

Statecraft - Invitation to Exile by Athi-Patra Ruga, wool and thread on tapestry canvas

Statecraft – Invitation to Exile by Athi-Patra Ruga, wool and thread on tapestry canvas

Well as you know, life happens, so I only caught two shows this past weekend – but what shows they were!

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair’s  second iteration, was as good as its first.  Held once again in Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, this year the fair featured 17 galleries, which made it quite manageable, and accounted in part for the high quality of the work shown.  It also made it easy to talk with the gallerists (and sometimes the artists). 

As an embroiderer, I immediately gravitated to the fibre art pieces, which melded modern sensibilities and politics with traditional craft techniques.  I especially liked the embroidered Statecraft – Invitation to Exile by Athi-Patra Ruga, whose viivid red sky and roiling blue seas captured the internal turmoil of the exiled.  Close by was Infinite Yield by Otobong Nkanga, which used traditional tapestry weaving to depict a human figure, whose identity is obscured by diamonds, astride a Namibian mine. 

detail from Mood Indigo, by Billie Zangewa, silk appliqué

detail from Mood Indigo, by Billie Zangewa, silk appliqué

Billie Zangewa had two lovely silk appliqué pieces – Angel and Mood Indigo – each with a powerful narrative of loss, and Laurence Lemaoana’s fabric pieces – Rat King and Derision – gave new vibrancy to word art.  In the same vein, All Miller had a fabulous tapestry of beads made from Obama’s election posters. 

Gastinau Massamba’s God Save the Queen, a large scale embroidery on linen, featured a fantastical animal (combination giraffe and zebra) in a field of flowers, had a delicate feel, with an underlying note of healing.

Out of Time 1 by Omar BA, oil on cardboard

Out of Time 1 by Omar BA, oil on cardboard

Other standouts include the six intricate and elaborate oils on cardboard by Omar BA. Your eye is drawn to the lush, intricate backgrounds, which could be tropical settings or fireworks or gun flares, but it is immediately confronted by the struggling men, either prone or kneeling in the foreground, evoking themes of war and power. 

William Kentridge had an amazing woodcut, For Mantegna; 2 meters x 2 meters, composed of a dozen panels pieced together, it is part of a series about Rome’s political and cultural history.

For Mategna, by William Kentridge, woodcut

For Mategna, by William Kentridge, woodcut

There were about 60 artists showing in the fair;  in addition to fibre and oils, other artists employed acrylic, gouache, pastels, photography, and sculpture.   You can find more information on 1:54’s website.  I’ve also posted some pictures on my Instagram feed.

If you find yourself in London in early October, catch the 1:54 Fair  at Somerset House. 

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